As the Federal Communications Commission prepared to repeal the laws of net neutrality last year, 22 million comments were left on its website expressing arguments either for or against keeping the open internet protected and in place. A new report says that 99.7 percent of the unique comments left on the agency’s site were pro-net neutrality.
“Filtering Out the Bots: What Americans Actually Told the FCC about Net Neutrality Repeal” is a study completed by Ryan Singel—a Media and Strategy Fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society—in which he took a “state-by-state, district-by-district look at linguistically unique comments fled to the FCC in the 2017 repeal proceedings.”
In a blog post Monday, Singel wrote that he relied heavily on work previously done by data scientist Jeff Kao. Kao took all 22 million comments and extracted comments that weren’t form letters or products of fraud campaigns. He ended up with 800,000 comments that were identified as “semantic standouts.” Of those comments, 99.7 percent were in favor of keeping the net neutrality rules put in place in 2015 on the books.
Singel took Kao’s 800,000 comments and sorted them by geographic area including all 50 states as well as every single Congressional district.
“In all, 646,041 unique comments were matched to Congressional districts. The resulting reports for each district offer an avenue into exploring what citizens concerns are, and shows the breadth and diversity of concerns citizens had about the FCC declaring it would no longer ensure that Americans got to choose what websites, applications and services they use, without interference from the companies they pay to get online,” Singel wrote.
His report found that those unique commenters had a clear understanding of what net neutrality is and were able to articulate their reasoning for wanting to keep it in place. This includes rural Americans, who also expressed concerns over not having many options when it comes to internet providers.
Additionally, the number of comments that came from Congressional districts with hotly-contested races were higher than average. Both Democrats and Republicans were in favor of net neutrality.
The report makes it clear that all the non-unique comments filed to the FCC weren’t considered fakes because many commenters used form letters found on websites advocating for the cause.
“However, due to the large amount of noise created by fake comments, it remains very difficult to locate the real signals in the non-unique comments,” the report says.
Singel’s report can be downloaded in pdf form here. It includes links to the results from each individual state and Congressional district.